Can Ice Cream & Frozen Treats Be Part of a Healthy Diet?
by Karen Buch, RDN, LDN
Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than ice cream! Maybe that’s why National Ice Cream month is celebrated every year during the month of July. You may wonder whether ice cream and frozen novelties can fit into a healthful eating pattern. Yes, you can! Read on for a road map on how to include your favorite frozen treats, guilt-free.
All Foods Can Fit
A 2023 Atomik Research survey, of more than 2000 people, found 3 in 4 respondents believe ice cream can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. As a Registered Dietitian, I agree and strongly support the healthy enjoyment of foods. All foods can fit in moderation, including frozen treats.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans address this concept by designating “discretionary calories”. The guidelines encourage the vast majority of daily energy intake to come from essential, nutrient dense foods, while allowing roughly 10% of calories to spent on other foods of your choice.
Within your discretionary food selections, you might decide between ordering an appetizer or a dessert, eating a cookie or a choosing a scoop of ice cream, or opting for an ounce of chips or a half-cup of French fries. The keys to making a discretionary calorie budget work are being informed and aware, managing portion size and frequency, and balancing overall energy intake with energy output via regular activity and exercise.
Label reading helps consumers to be informed about the nutritional value of ice cream and frozen novelties. The Nutrition Facts Panel defines the serving size and related calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, added sugar and more. Atomik Research found nearly half of survey respondents (49%) say that they look at ice cream and frozen novelty food labels most of the time or always. Strive to read labels in the frozen food aisle to make informed choices at the point of purchase.
Americans love eating ice cream! How much are we really eating? Research suggests, the average person eats about 20 pounds (about 4 gallons) of ice cream per year. Similarly, Atomik Research found respondents eat ice cream or frozen novelties about 8 times a month on average.
Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Let’s be honest, the answer is ‘yes’. But, the good news is you don’t have to deny yourself the joy of eating ice cream and frozen novelties. The key to moderate intake is being mindful of ‘how much’ and ‘how often’.
General health guidelines recommend limiting overall sugar and fat intake. Specifically, the American Heart Association recommends that women limit their added sugar to 24 grams per day and men limit to 36 grams per day, while both men and women should limit saturated fat intake to a range of 6% to 10% or less of total calories. Keep these guidelines in mind when making daily food choices.
Moderation in Action
Using the above guidelines, a woman consuming a 2,000-calorie diet should limit to 24 grams or less added sugar per day a range of 13 to 22 grams or less saturated fat per day.
Similarly, a man consuming a 2,500-calorie diet should limit to 36 grams or less added sugar per day and a range of 16 to 28 grams or less saturated fat per day.
A 2/3 cup serving of Vanilla Bean Ice cream contains:
180 Total Calories, 16 grams Added Sugar and 10 grams Total Fat (of which 6 grams are Saturated Fat). In other words, a 2/3-cup serving vanilla ice cream can easily fit within daily limits on saturated fat and sugar. The hardest part may be sticking to the 2/3 cup serving or about one scoop!
Practical Choices & Options
When shopping in the frozen foods aisle, consider the wide variety of frozen treats available in today’s grocery stores. Many types of ice cream and frozen novelty options can fit into a balanced diet.
- Enjoy one (2/3 cup) scoop of traditional ice cream or frozen yogurt in a one cup dessert dish.
• Enjoy one (2/3 cup) scoop of traditional ice cream or frozen yogurt on an ice cream cone.
• Enjoy one traditional frozen novelty such as a popsicle, ice cream sandwich or frozen fruit bar.
• Enjoy one serving of Italian gelato or look for reduced-sugar, high fiber, protein-rich and dairy-free
frozen novelty options in portion-controlled serving sizes that fit within your discretionary calorie budget.
Share with us on social media how you like to enjoy ice cream @EasyHomeMeals.
About the Author
Karen Buch, RDN, LDN is a central Pennsylvania-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with over 15 years of experience working in grocery retail. As Founder of Nutrition Connections LLC, Karen uses multi-media communications to help consumers make the connection between food, nutrition and health and provides consulting services to various clients within the food industry.